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How Working Fewer Hours Can Increase Your Productivity

Posted By Nicole Avery 24th of August 2016 Be Productive 0 Comments

How working fewer hours can increase your productivityBy ProBlogger Productivity Expert Nicole Avery.

We live in a culture that assumes the more hours you work the more work you are doing. Stories are traded of working past midnight or working 10 hour days with no breaks with great pride and being sleep deprived due to work, is treated by many as a badge of honour. But is it productive?

If you look at the statistics, it appears not:


The above graph shows the productivity (GDP per hour worked) in relation to the number of hours worked in OECD countries. The trend is clear: the more hours worked the less productive we are.

Personally this is something I have worked out the hard way. At the end of 2014 I was so close to quitting blogging. I was caught in the working longer hours trap. I would work some hours while the kids were at school, then once they were off in bed I would start my second shift and work late into the night.

I found myself in the position where it seemed, no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes we need to reach a low point before we make change and this was the case for me. I shared on ProBlogger last year the steps I took to turn this around and you can read more about it here, but the biggest impact was changing my work schedule and working fewer hours.

Working fewer hours when you are struggling to keep up can seem contradictory, but productivity isn’t about the volume of hours you work, it is about your work output. I set new work boundaries for myself. I was no longer going to do a second shift. My workday would end when the kids were home from school and I would have at least one day every weekend that was work free.

As I made the changes to my work schedule, the results on my productivity were instantaneous. Working tired all the time is ineffective, things take longer, you are more easily distracted and there is an increase in procrastination. Taking adequate breaks away from the blog allowed me to refresh, rest and have time for thinking, all of which helped increase my productivity when I was working.

Associate Professor Cal Newport even has a formula to explain why working more hours isn’t necessarily more productive:

work accomplished = time spent x intensity of focus

You can use this formula to see if working fewer hours can help you increase your productivity. Newport uses an intensity of focus rating of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of focus.

In my example back in 2014, after working until 11.00pm the day before my work accomplished the next day would have looked something like this:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 6 intensity of focus
  • 11:00am – 12:00pm – 5 intensity of focus
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm – 4 intensity of focus
  • 2:00pm – 3:00pm – 4 intensity of focus

This would give me a work-accomplished result of 19 units of work for my four hours of work. Then I would have my second session in the evening:

  • 8:00pm – 9:00pm – 3 intensity of focus
  • 10:00pm – 11:00pm – 2 intensity of focus

This would give me a work-accomplished result of five units of work for my two hours of work and a total of 24 units of work for my six hours of work time that day.

Compare this to my current schedule, where I do not work at night and am in bed by 10:00pm:

  • 10:00am – 11:00am – 10 intensity of focus
  • 11:00am – 12:00pm – 9 intensity of focus
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm – 9 intensity of focus
  • 2:00pm – 3:00pm – 8 intensity of focus

I estimate that for my four hours of work my output is 36 units of work, a 50% increase in my productivity compared to my 2014 example. And my current output confirms this formula to be correct. I am working about half as many hours as I was working, for more output. This year I have started a podcast and have almost completed a new product to sell from the blog – neither of which I did when I was working in the evenings.

It can be scary to think about working less, but if you think about the times when you have achieved your greatest work output, you will most likely find commonalities like you were well rested and focused. Working longer hours is not conducive to creating this state, so take the plunge and revamp your work schedule to work fewer hours, but work more effectively in those hours you work.

How many hours a week are you working on your blog?

About Nicole Avery
Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged seven to 17. She is the master organiser behind the popular parenting blog Planning With Kids and and the creator of the Planned & Present e-course, a step-by-step guide for mums on how to organise the chaos of family life while still leaving space to enjoy it.
  1. I personally tried the early morning shift. I used to wake up around 8 AM, and get on with tasks by 10 AM. It helped me in getting done with most of the tasks, before that I was used to work late till mid-night.

  2. Very true! I usually do much of my work at night because that’s when i get to concentrate more and besides, the atmosphere also favors me. I don’t do much during day except relaxing.

  3. Most of My Work Happens Very Positively from Between 3 pm to 6 pm , this is the Time I get the Most Energy .

    Next The Best time I Feel is During the Night after Dinner is the time when I can Work Uninterrupted .

  4. Well, In my case I used to work almost 4 to 5 hours in a day. Office timings are from 9 to 3 pm and that is what I always needed. Night timing for blogging and doing graphic designing is perfect for me.

  5. I agree with your post. working in badges for short time helps you to not only increase productivity but also more work done in required time.

  6. I obviously agree that a high number of hours worked will impact productivity in a negative way (as shown on the OECD hours/production chart). However I think the time of the day that one is most productive will vary according to their own biological clock.

  7. Such a great post and a subject I am struggling with mightily. I am just beginning my blogging journey and figuring out how balance this with my full time job, kids and wife is a significant challenge.

    Scheduling regular blogging time has been such a struggle for me, but this post demonstrates just how important scheduling meaningful, productive time is. I find myself trying to work on my blog when I am either too tired or too distracted by other things to create good quality content.

    I am sure it will be challenging to figure out what works best for me, but now I know for sure I need to tackle this issue instead of continuing in my current rudderless condition.

    • As you can see in my post, I was there too Todd. Playing with time to fit in blogging may help, possibly getting up an hour earlier before everyone else might help?

    • I’d suggest checking out Ali Luke’s blog too, (www.aliventures.com). Problogger and Ali Luke’s site are the only two writing/blogging sites I read regularly and subscribe to – both are so helpful! Scheduling time for blogging is something I struggle with sometimes too, along with my freelance writing. Ali has a wonderful little eBook called Time to Write that’s free when you subscribe, the exercises in it have helped me a lot! :-)

  8. I was happy to read this article. The optimal time for me to blog is “whenever I feel the most productive” and that varies from day to day. First thing in the morning though, is usually when I do my best work.
    Another similar topic that I constantly preach is the need for time off. Not just stepping away from your desk for a “real” lunch break, but freeing up the weekends for fun stuff and doing the same for those all important vacations that refresh our souls and teach us so many things that help us be so much more productive.
    I recently wrote this post about the importance, the glories and the values of vacations: Vacations Are Work at Its Most Fun and Productive.

  9. I agree to Oggie’s comment. It is been a struggle for me to find the time which is more productive. But I noticed morning time is the best time for doing more work in less time. Worth reading!

  10. It´s just my case, the same stuff that Nicole has performed in 2014.

    Excellent blog post, something like Tim Ferriss showed us at 4HWW about Parkinson´s Law.

    I´ll take the advice, thanks Nicole.

  11. Though I agree that some timing help people to be more productive with their tasks, I feel it comes down to their mind set. It depends on the goals they are looking to achieve. Self-discipline and being organized are the core elements of productivity from my point of view.

    Thanks for the nice blog post, Nicole.

  12. I am also adding this schedule to my daily diary now.

    Thanks a lot

  13. Creative roadblocks and burnout are real factors along this journey, so you’ll most certainly need to pace yourself whilst recharging your batteries frequently. I’m totally for our current state of reaching for the ‘productivity prince/ss’ crown, but simply being busy shouldn’t be your focus. Purposeful productivity where your business production supports your business scale is the essence of what Nicole is talking about here, and this takes precise scheduling for best results, because you undoubtedly feel more motivated at different time slots during your days, weeks and months.

    I personally like the heavy lifting and tedious tasks early during the day Monday-Wednesday. For me (after checking email), I slot this time for revisions, development, marketing, and my BIG FISH projects. The middle portion of my day is exercise and family obligations (Mon-Fri). I prefer to save social, design and miscellaneous for the close out of my day. If done correctly (as Nicole points out) your motion will consistently be upward bound and less work somehow starts to equal more.

  14. Great topic! As a student and sometimes freelancer, I think that our education system needs to look at this topic also. I feel like I am supposed to do my most intensive and creative work at the worst times. I hope as I get more control over my time, I can figure out how to apply these ideas.

  15. As a blogger and engineer with my own firm and couple of employees, I can’t help but relate to the logical nature of this argument. I think this formula of (time spent x intensity of focus) is going to be my new thought process when it comes to productivity. I guess what it means is that people have to have the intensity, not just the brute hours of work. That is, distractions have to be minimized, or better yet, a certain number of hours “distraction free” time could be allotted.

  16. Great read, loving the data! Thank You Nicole!

  17. I am agree with you. Working fewer hours can increase your productivity as well as increase your chances of success too.

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